Express News Service
BHOWANIPORE: It was a weekend morning and a group of around 20 middle-aged men, sitting in front of a tea-stall near Northern Park in Bhowanipore, was constantly fiddling with their mobile phones and sharing WhatsApp messages. The men, belonging to non-Bengali speaking community, which is said to be the BJP’s main vote-bank, were not sharing jokes or any other content. Instead, all messages were related to one subject: Whom to support, TMC’s Mamata or BJP’s Priyanka?
The apparent confusion about voting preference among non-Bengali electorate in Bhowanipore assembly constituency, which supported the BJP en bloc in the recent assembly elections, has raised concerns in the saffron camp and brought smiles on the faces of TMC functionaries.
“It is a fact that the non-Bengali community has been divided into two factions. One wants to support the BJP while the other prefers to gather behind Mamata because her party has returned to power. Besides, the BJP also failed to retain its legislative strength that it had secured in the assembly polls,” said Vikram Mehta, whose grandfather had arrived here from Gujarat decades ago.
Mehta was not hesitant to disclose that he was suggesting others of his community to vote for Mamata by sharing WhatsApp messages. Bhowanipore is all set to witness a high-voltage by-election of recent times in Bengal’s electoral history on September 30. Mamata is the first chief minister of Bengal who is to face a by-election to retain her position. Though other political parties have fielded candidates, like the assembly polls, it is a battle between the TMC and its arch rival BJP.
Those who do not speak Bengali form around 40 per cent of the total electorate in Bhowanipore. Though the BJP is expecting the support of this section, the ground scenario doesn’t second their expectations.
“Why would we vote for the BJP? Many of us voted for the BJP because there was a perception that it would get power in Bengal. But the election results were far from it. Now a good chunk of non-Bengali voters have decided to support Mamata and they are also convincing others by sending messages on social media,” said homemaker Rekha Mehta.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate and young lawyer Priyanka Tibrewal appeared confident of bagging the support of non-Bengali voters. “People of Bhwanipore, irrespective of what language they speak, will support me,” she said. Though the BJP has engaged its national leadership for poll-campaign in Bhowanipore, the saffron camp, sensing dent on its non-Bengali votebank, has chalked out a strategy to ‘hijack’ Mamata’s popular ‘Didi image’. In the poll-related posters and graffiti, Priyanka is not mentioning her surname but portraying herself as ‘Priyanka Didi’.
“This is to woo the Bengali voters. We adopted the strategy to give an impression that it is a Didi vs Didi battle,” said a BJP leader. The walls along a narrow lane in Bhowanipore’s Ekbalpore area, a Muslim dominated- pocket, was completely covered with poll graffiti displaying Mamata’s photos, her favourite slogan khele hobe and a new campaign-line Bhowanipore nijer meyeke chay (Bhowanipore wants their own daughter).
A cluster of youths standing in front of a tea-stall in the area was confident that there would be no re-run of Nandigram. “There is no hurdle on the path of Didi’s victory. This pocket has been loyal to her since the 2011 assembly elections,” said Mohammad Samad of Ekbalpore, a stronghold of TMC.
Meanwhile, the Bengal CM’s speech in her poll campaigns reflects desperation to bag victory in the by-poll. “Every single vote is important to me. If you want to me see as the CM, don’t waste your vote,” Mamata continues to say in her campaigns. While the saffron camp claimed that “Mamata is under pressure”, the TMC side rubbished it.